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The Nerdy Way To Learn: Spanish » Patterns » SH to J »

Celoso and Jealous, Zeal

The Spanish celoso and the English for the same, jealousy, come from the same Greek root: zelos.

But how did this happen? They should so different!

The answer is that the Latin (and Greek) words with a ‑ch- sound and variations (like ‑sh‑, the soft ‑j-, ‑z-, etc) usually turned into the hard, guttural, throat-cleaing ‑j- sound in Spanish. Think about sherry and jerez, for example, or quash and quejar, or soap and jabón.

Thus, the c‑l-s of celoso maps to the j‑l-s of jealous.

Curiously, the ancient Greek form — zelos — meant jealousy, but in the more positive sense of enthusiasm and friendly rivalry. In a word: zeal — which also comes from the same root!

Empujar and Push

The Spanish empujar (“to push”) has the same common ancestor as the English for the same, push: the Latin pulsare.

Pulsare meant, in Latin, “to beat”. A push is a sort of beat, in both senses: a punch and, a punch happening over and over again!

From the same root we also get the English, to pulse, of course. As does… impulse. Yes, an impulse is indeed a strong punch!

The sound here is a variation of the sh-to‑j pattern, where variations of the s/x/sh/soft‑g sound in Latin turned into the “j” in Spanish (via the Arabic influence) but remained the same as it transformed from Latin into educated English. Hence the “sh” sound in “push”!

Eje and Axle

The Spanish eje for “axle” comes from the Latin for the same, axis. The English axle comes from the same common ancestor as the Latin axis, the proto-indo-european root *aks- also meaning the same.

The Spanish eje is easy to understand if we remember that most of the x/sh/ch sounds in Latin and the ancient languages became the throat-clearing ‑j- sound in Spanish. Thus, the e‑j of eje maps to the a‑x of axle pretty clearly.

It’s interesting how such a simple word has remained mostly unchanged for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps, the axle is one of the most fundamental discoveries in human history. It is, after all, what led to the wheel, which led to… civilization.

Jerez — Sherry

Sherry jerez spanish englishThe Latin sounds for “sh” — and similar variations, like “ch” and “ss” — became a “j” sound in Spanish.

Thus, the English sherry is near identical to the Spanish jerez!

These sh/j sounds were often spelt with a “x” in old Spanish; and sherry itself is named after the town it first came from, Xeres, which is near Cordova.

Jabón — Soap

Soap and the Spanish for the same, jabón, sound like they have nothing in common. But sounds can be deceiving.

Both come from the same root: the Latin sebum, meaning “grease”.

How can such different words be so related? Easy: the Latin s- sound and its variations (sh‑, ch- and sy- for example) usually became, under the arabic influence, a j- sound in Spanish but remained more intact in English.

Thus, the s‑p of soap maps almost exactly to the j‑b of jabón. The “p” and “b” are often easily interchanged as well.

Less fun is also noting that, from the same Latin root, meaning “grease” we also get seborrhea (a medical condition of having too much grease on your skin).

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